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Bitzer column: College-bound? Consider these questions

By Michael Bitzer
Special to the Post
Know what the difference between earning $1.2 million over your lifetime and earning $2.1 million is? A college degree. For many workers today, a college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 20 to 30 years ago: the ticket into a professional career marked with continuing advancement. Nowadays, that ticket is often in the form of a college degree.
The U.S. Census reports that the average full-time year-round U.S. worker with a high school degree earns approximately $30,800. That same worker, with a college degree, earns $49,900, which is 62 percent more than the high school graduate earns. Higher education is more, though, than just about earnings potential in one’s career. It is about an investment in our society as well.
A 2005 College Board study found that higher education levels correspond to lower levels of unemployment, poverty and crime, while college graduates have higher positive perceptions of personal health, civil participation and volunteerism in society.
For Rowan County students and their families, an opportunity is coming up for them to explore higher education. The Rowan County College Fair is this Thursday, with two separate events: one for college-prep juniors and seniors from 8:30 a.m. until noon, while an evening program will be open for any interested students and their families from 6 until 7:30 p.m. Both events will take place in the Peeler Crystal Lounge of the Robertson College-Community Center at Catawba College.
Sponsored by the Carolinas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, this once-a-year event is designed to give Rowan County high school students, particularly juniors and seniors, the opportunity to meet over 55 higher education institutions, ranging from community colleges and military options, to private colleges and public universities.
When deciding which type of higher education institution to consider applying to, students may want to ask themselves a series of questions before Thursday’s event:
– What type of school am I interested in? Students should think about the size of the student body population, whether they would want a liberal arts education (with a broad base of courses in different areas), a university setting (with larger options of majors and research facilities, but also larger class sizes) or a community college (offering courses that can transfer to a four-year institution or working towards a technical degree for immediate entry into the workforce).
– What type of academic program am I looking for? Liberal arts programs focus on gaining a broad-based course of study in conjunction with a major area of study. Some academic programs start you in their course of study immediately. Are internship opportunities available in the course of study? What is the academic reputation of the faculty in the programs I’m interested in?
– What type of location would I like? A school in an urban area or suburban area or rural area? What about student life on the campus? Is housing offered on campus? What about athletic opportunities or extracurricular activities?
– Where do the alumni of the schools I’m interested go on to? Are they prepared for graduate education, or do they go straight into the workforce?
Beyond “where do I want to go and how will I get in,” one of the most important questions for most students and their families is, “How will I pay for my education?” From the opportunity for scholarships from local groups to federal student aid, financial aid offices on all campus are available to help students and their families create a suitable financial aid package.
– One important step in finding financial aid is for families to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is available on-line at www.fafsa.ed.gov starting in January. Students use this form, after their families have completed their taxes, to apply for federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, which are need-based financial aid and do not have to be repaid.
Based on the FAFSA, other forms of financial aid may include scholarships offered by the higher education institution, college-work study aid, North Carolina grants and federal student loans.
As the host site for the Rowan County College Fair, I hope that all students ówhether you are interested in technical or community colleges or four-year colleges or universities ó will take advantage of this important event to explore higher education. While the possibility to earn a greater income over your lifetime is often an important factor in deciding to pursue higher education, the knowledge, opportunities and relationships that one makes at a college or university can last a lifetime.
– – –
Dr. Michael Bitzer is associate professor of politics and history and dean of admissions at Catawba College.

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